Deal Polly, Most kids in my new class are adjusting well, but Jared can't seem to settle down. He talks while I'm reading stories, tries to go outside during snack time, and bothers the other children. He wanders and at times seems out of control. What can I do? - Concerned in Columbus
Dear Concerned, Classroom behavior may be completely unheard-of by a child just starting school. Try to put yourself in his shoes: Imagine yourself coming from a relatively unrestricted home environment to a place where you are expected to arrive, eat, wash, go from room to room, listen to stories, and make artwork only at certain times.
How Can You Help Jared Settle In?
Make sure he understands what's expected of him, and why. Everyone does better when they know what's coming next and how to handle it. Before you begin, explain that while you are reading, other children need quiet to listen. Jared can sit quietly with you or play quietly somewhere else in the room. Of course, it's always wise, and it greatly increases the value of reading to children, to stop often and hear their comments and to connect the story to their experiences.
Make sure he has plenty of free-choice time. We all know that a classroom needs rules and a schedule, but be sure the rules make sense and the schedule has plenty of free time built in. Keep in mind that most of us have way too many rules and much too detailed a schedule. If you find you can't explain your rules, that may be a clue that they are unnecessary!
Consider stress. Perhaps Jared is having trouble settling in school because he feels anxious about being there or is not certain about what he should be doing. Don't you sometimes pace or go outside for a walk when faced with a stressful situation? This child may be doing the same thing by moving restlessly around the classroom or trying to go outside.
What you can do:
Provide opportunities for strenuous exercise. Just like adults, children feel more relaxed if they have a chance to let it all out. Ask yourself if your children have plenty of gross-motor activities.
Help anchor the child. A child who paces restlessly because he doesn't know what to do with himself will feel calmer once he finds an engrossing activity or a friend he feels comfortable with. Play with him yourself for a few minutes, then try matching him up with different children, one at a time, until you find someone he plays well with.
Encourage additional stress-reducing activities. Listening to music on a headset or playing with sand or water can be soothing. So can personal attention; ask your aide to read the child a story of his choice or play with blocks one-on-one.
Once you help this child through his difficult transition period, he will probably channel some of that high energy into positive pursuits. (If only he could channel some of it our way; what teacher ever had as much energy as she could use!)